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Chest Tubes

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Mar 5, 2023.

What do I need to know about a chest tube?

A chest tube is also known as chest drain or chest drainage tube. It is a plastic tube that is put through the side of your chest. It uses a suction device to remove air, blood, or fluid from around your heart or lung. A chest tube will help you breathe more easily.

How do I prepare for a chest tube to be inserted?

Your healthcare provider will tell you how to prepare. You may be given general anesthesia to keep you asleep and free from pain during the procedure. You may instead be given local anesthesia or a nerve block. You will be able to feel some pressure during the procedure, but you should not feel any pain. You may be given antibiotics to prevent a bacterial infection. Tell your healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to anesthesia or an antibiotic.

What will happen when a chest tube is inserted?

Your healthcare provider will make a small incision in your chest. A tool is used to make an opening through the chest muscle. The chest tube is inserted slowly until it reaches the pleural space or chest cavity. Your healthcare provider may use an ultrasound to guide him or her. When the tube is in place, it will be connected to suction and a drainage system. Stitches may be sewn into your chest wall to hold the tube in place. Tape may also be used to secure the tube before it is covered with a bandage.

What happens after a chest tube has been inserted?

  • Medicines may be given to relieve pain or prevent a bacterial infection.
  • An x-ray or a CT scan may be used to make sure the tube is in the right place. You may also need an x-ray after your chest tube is removed.

What do I need to know about chest tube removal?

  • Your healthcare provider will tell you when the chest tube can be removed. After heart surgery, the chest may be removed within 72 hours. For lungs, the chest tube can be taken out when your lung is working normally again. One sign of this is little or no fluid draining into the chest tube. Another sign is no air leaking for 1 to 2 days. You may need a chest x-ray to make sure your lung is working as it should.
  • You may be given medicine to treat pain before the tube is removed. The tape will be removed. The stitches holding the tube in place will be loosened. You may need to breathe a certain way as the tube is taken out. Your healthcare provider will remove the tube. He or she may tighten the stitches to close the opening. He or she will cover the area with a bandage that will stop air from getting into your chest.

What are the risks of a chest tube?

  • You may get an infection in the area where the tube was inserted. The tube may damage organs that are close to your lungs. Your chest tube may move out of place when you move or turn. If this happens, you may need to have another chest tube put in.
  • You may get a blood clot in your leg or arm. This can cause pain and swelling, and it can stop blood from flowing where it needs to go in your body. The blood clot can break loose and travel to your lungs. A blood clot in your lungs can cause chest pain and trouble breathing. This can be life-threatening.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.